1920′s Blues


ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Henry ThomasRun, Mollie, RunTexas Worried Blues
Henry ThomasOld Country StompTexas Worried Blues
Gus Cannon My Money Never Runs OutGood for What Ails You
William Moore Ragtime MillionaireBroadcasting The Blues
Luke Jordan Pick Poor Robin CleanBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Texas Alexander Levee Camp MoanBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Andrew & Jim Baxter Bamalong BluesBefore The Blues Vol. 1
Bogus Ben Covington Adam And Eve In The GardenAlabama Black Country Dance Bands 1924 - 1949
Frank Stokes Chicken You Can Roost Behind The MoonBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Frank Stokes I Got MineThe Best of Frank Stokes
Peg Leg Howell Beaver Slide RagViolin, Sing The Blues For Me
Henry Williams & Eddie Anthony Georgia CrawlFolks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!
Daddy Stovepipe & Mississippi Sarah The SpasmGood For What Ails You
Bo Chatman Good Old Turnip Greens Folks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!
Beans Hambone & El Morrow BeansGood For What Ails You
Cannon's Jug Stompers Feather BedBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Jim Jackson I Heard the Voice of a PorkchopGood For What Ails You
Jim Jackson Bye, Bye, PolicemanGood For What Ails You
Richard ''Rabbit'' Brown Never Let The Same Bee Sting You TwiceNever Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Papa Harvey Hull Hey! Lawdy Mama -The France BluesNever Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Pink Anderson & Simmie Dooley Gonna Tip Out, TonightGood For What Ails You
Mississippi John Hurt Stack O'Lee Blues Avalon Blues - 1928 Recordings
Mississippi John Hurt Spike Driver’s BluesAvalon Blues - 1928 Recordings
Furry Lewis Kassie JonesBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Joe Evans & Arthur McClain John HenryBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Alec Johnson Next Week SometimeMississippi Strings Bands & Associates
Hambone Willie Newbern Nobody Knows (What The Good Deacon Does)Never Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Stovepipe #1 & David Crockett A Chicken Can Waltz the Gravy AroundGood For What Ails You
Crying Sam Collins Lonesome Road BluesBefore The Blues Vol. 1
Charlie Patton Elder GreenScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Mississippi Sheiks He’s In The Jailhouse Now Mississippi Sheiks Vol. 2 1930-1931
Blind Blake Champaign Charlie Is My Name The Best of Blind Blake
Hezekiah Jenkins Shout, You CatsGood For What Ails You

Show Notes:

This show originally aired 11/7/10

The blues emerged around  1900, rapidly became very popular and was widespread by the teens. When recording started, there were still musicians around who performed material from the older traditions – men generally called songsters. Originally a 'songster' was a songbook but the term was adapted by African-Americans to mean a singer, as Howard Odum noted in  1911: "In general 'songster' is used to denote any Negro who regularly sings or makes songs: 'musicianer' applies often to the individual who claims to be expert with the banjo or fiddle." In the 1920's and 30's when black music first came on record blues scholar Paul Oliver noted that "for a dozen years a remarkable documentation of black vocal traditions was purchasable on commercial releases. …The diversity of singers, entertainers, jazz bands, preachers and other black artists represented on these records was remarkable.” Prior to the blues, reaching back to the nineteenth century there was a variety of black music before it got on record; there was ragtime, black vaudeville, minstrels, coon songs, work songs, dance tunes, medicine show entertainers, sheet music that found its way into black music and emphasis on banjo and fiddle music among other types. Songs were spread by traveling songsters, black road troupes, minstrel shows, tent shows and medicine shows. Although this music was not captured on record when it was in vogue many of these forms found their way onto records when blues was being recorded. Older musicians, born in the 1860's through the 1880's, learned early forms of black music that they brought to their records when they had the opportunity to record in the 20's and 30's. Some of it was shaped to fit the blues, the popular music of the day, while other songs remain more or less intact as performed by blacks decades prior. This was the  music of men like Henry Thomas, Jim Jackson, Frank Stokes, Daddy Stovepipe, Papa Charlie Jackson, the music of the jug and string bands and the music of the songsters and ballad singers. The records these men, and to a lesser extent women, recorded gives us a fascinating glimpse of the era before the rise of the blues. These older styles didn't disappear but remained parallel to the blues. An example of this is that as late as the mid-1910s the term "up-to-date coon shouter" was routinely applied to the likes of Clara Smith, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith; but around 1916 they were redefined as "blues singers." Eventually these older styles were eclipsed by the popularity of blues although these older styles were still being performed in black communities into the 60's, 70's and beyond.

I've long been fascinated by this, for lack of a better term, pre-blues material and today's program will be the first installment of a multi-part feature. I'm far from an expert on the black musical styles before the blues but luckily I was able to draw on some excellent books, several of which have been published in recent years. In addition to these books, I finally got around to reading Paul Oliver's excellent Songsters And Saints published in 1984 and a valuable resource for today's program. Since then several superb books have been published; Ragged But Right: Black Traveling Shows, "Coon Songs", and the Dark Pathway to Blues and Jazz, Out of Sight: The Rise of African American Popular Music, 1889-1895, Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890-1919 and Long Lost Blues: Popular Blues in America, 1850-1920. In addition there are several fine anthologies of pre-blues recordings. Among those featured today are Before The Blues Vol. 1-3 on Yazoo, Document's 3-CD set Never Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice: Blues, Ballads, Rags And Gospel In The Songster Tradition plus several on Old Hat including the 2-CD Good For What Ails You: Music of the Medicine Shows 1926-1937, Folks He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!: Vintage Fiddle Music 1927-1935 and Violin, Sing The Blues For Me: African-American Fiddlers, 1926-1949. Below is some background on some today's artists and songs.

Henry Thomas, billed as "Ragtime Texas", was born in Big Sandy, Texas in 1874, and began his musical career as an itinerant songster, and recorded twenty-three songs from 1927 to 1929. He accompanied himself with the guitar and the quills, a folk instrument made from cane reeds. “Flailing his guitar”, Tony Russell writes, “in now forgotten country dance rhythms, whistling delicate melodies on his panpies, gruffly chanting rag songs and blues, Thomas is a figure of almost legend.” The portrait Thomas presents on his twenty-three recordings cut for Vocalion between 1927 to 1929 provides, Russell notes, “a wholly absorbing picture of black-country music before it was submerged beneath the tidal wave of the blues.” Thomas embodied the term songster, cutting blues, rags, country stomps, refashioned coon songs and square dance numbers. Thomas was the archetypal rambling musician who went wherever the railroads would take him. According to Mack McCormick, as told to him from a former railroad conductor, “Ragtime Texas was a big fellow that used to come aboard at Gladewater or Mineola or somewhere in there. I’d always carry him, except when he was too dirty. He was a regular hobo, but I’d carry him most of the time. That guitar was his ticket.”

The song "Pick Poor Robin Clean" has shadowy origins but it likely dates to the turn of the century. The song was picked up by songster Luke Jordan who recorded the number in 1927. The song was also recorded by Elvie Thomas & Geechie Wiley in 1931. Jordan was born January 28, 1892 , possibly either Appomattox or Campbell county, Virginia he died June 25, 1952, Lynchburg, Virginia. The blues scene in pre-war Virginia was poorly documented at the time and few of its members managed to record. Post-war research by Bruce Bastin reveals that Jordan was a key figure in the blues enclave centered around Lynchburg. Victor Records discovered him in 1927 and he recorded for them in Charlotte, North Carolina, in August of that year. Jordan's records sold well enough to justify transporting him to New York for a further two sessions in November 1929.

Frank Stokes and partner Dan Sane recorded as The Beale Street Shieks, a Memphis answer to the musical Chatmon family string band, the Mississippi Shieks. By most accounts Stokes was already playing the streets of Memphis by the turn of the century, about the same time the blues began to flourish. As a street artist, he needed a broad repertoire of songs and patter palatable to blacks and whites. A medicine show and house party favorite, Stokes was remembered as a consummate entertainer who drew on songs from the 19th and 20th centuries with equal facility. Solo or with Sane and sometimes fiddler Will Batts, Stokes recorded 38 sides for Paramount and Victor. Of today's featured songs, “I Got Mine” was published by a white composer in 1901 and taken up by black songsters while “Chicken You Can Roost Behind The Moon” has its roots in a song published in 1899. “Chicken” was a Coon song, a genre of music popular primarily in the 1880’s and 1890’s, that presented a racist and stereotyped image of blacks that were sung by both whites and blacks.

”My Money Never Runs Out” also has roots from the turn of the century and was composed by Irving Jones and published in 1900. Jones published songs as early as 1892, several of which found their way onto race records in the 1920’s. Today we hear the song as performed by Gus Cannon who recorded the song thirty years later with his band Cannon’s Jug Stompers. Cannon launched his medicine show career in 1914 when he joined Doc Stokey of Clarksdale, Mississippi. He later joked that Stokey's tonic sold "one bottle for a quarter, or three for a dollar!" A tour with  Doc Benson's show took Cannon to Chicago in 1927, where he auditioned for Paramount Records and recorded a session with ace guitar picker Blind Blake. ”My Money Never Runs Out” was advertised, with a short extract on the back cover by another piece by Irving Jones called “Ragtime Millionaire.” The song may be one of the earliest to make reference to the blues. We hear the song today as recorded by William Moore who recorded the number for Paramount in 1928. A resident of Tappahannock, Virginia, Moore recorded sixteen sides for Paramount in 1928.

Peg Leg Howell was born in 1888, arrived in Atlanta in 1923 and was recorded by Columbia in November 1926. The first session featured Howell solo and are certainly appealing but it’s the rough, exciting stringband music he recorded with His Gang that really grabs attention. The gang consisted of Henry Williams on guitar and the infectious alley fiddle of Eddie Anthony. Williams and Anthony recorded together without Howell on “Georgia Crawl” b/w “Lonesome Blues” on April 19, 1928. Unfortunately the trio only made a handful of recordings as Williams apparently died in jail in January 1930 while serving time for vagrancy and Anthony passed in 1934, after which Howell gave up music. Many of Howell’s blues verses date to shortly after the turn of the century. “Georgia Crawl” may be related to a song published in 1913 as the 'Georgia Grind", a later done by pianist Jimmy Blythe with the song picked up by several bands and singers including Duke Ellington's Washingtonians and Louis Armstrong. It's impossible to say where the duo picked up the tune.

Pink Anderson spent many years on the road with medicine shows and learned guitar from his early partner Simmie Dooley, and older musician who was born in 1881. They recorded four titles together in 1928. Anderson was born in South Carolina and toured throughout the Southeast with a variety of medicine shows during 1915-1945, picking up work wherever he could. He was employed not only as a musician and a singer but as a dancer and comedian. Anderson was extensively recorded by Sam Charters in 1961 resulting in three albums of material. From the notes to the compilation Good For What Ails You, Marshall Wyatt gives us some background on the medicine show: " Medicine shows flourished in the years following the Civil War when America's patent medicine industry was booming, and governmental regulations were few. Often called "med shows" for short, or simply "doctor shows," they were also extolled as "psysic operas" and their route was known as the "kerosene circuit" for the fuel that illuminated their stages at night. Whatever the name, music was always a crucial ingredient. Onstage, musicians served up a variety of comic songs, parodies, popular favorites, novelties, folk songs, dance tunes, and instrumental specialties. In the early decades of the 20th century, new musical forms, such as as jazz and blues, were added to the mix. …Such noted bluesmen as Sleepy John Estes, Sonny Terry, and Big Joe Williams spent time with the med shows, as did a whole constellation of Memphis singers and jug-band musicians, including Will Shade, Jim Jackson, and Frank Stokes.

Born in the 1880’s, Jim Jackson was an experienced medicine show performer and occasional street singer. The Mississippi born Jackson had one of the biggest blues hits of the 20’s with his “Jim Jackson’s Kansas City Blues.”  His recordings represent one of the richest veins of pre-blues music to be issued on record. Among these are songs like “I’m A  Bad Bad Man” which draws on a composition from 1894 and “I’m Gonna Start Me A Graveyard Of My Own” which dates to 1901. Barrelhouse pianist Speckled Red shared the stage with Jim Jackson in 1928 while touring through Mississippi and Alabama with the Red Rose Minstrels & Medicine Show. Red remembered Jackson as "a big fat feller, weighed about 235 pounds. Tall, stately feller too, and he danced, sang, played git-tar, cracked jokes." Jackson's long career with traveling shows began in 1905, and much of his repertoire was rooted in the 19th century. "Bye, Bye Policeman" quotes the chorus of Ernest Hogan's "La Pas Ma La", published in 1895.

Born circa 1880, Richard "Rabbit"  Brown spent much of his life in New Orleans where he was reported to have worked as a street singer and singing boatman on Lake Ponchartrain.  Our selection, “Never Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice” was based on a song published in 1900. On March 11, 1927, Brown cut six sides for the recording pioneer Ralph Peer. Brown was a very much the songster and his recordings are an interesting mix of original blues, pop covers and "event" songs like his "Sinking Of The Titanic."

Born in Teoc, Mississippi in 1893, John Hurt moved to the town if Avalon at the age of two which remained his home for the rest of his life. Hurt cut two sessions in 1928 for the Okeh label and would not record again until 1963. Hurt’s repertoire includes blues from when he was growing up as well as ballads like “Stack O’ Lee” and  “Spike Driver Blues”, which references John Henry, and “Louis Collins” and “Frankie.”

Furry Lewis was a Memphis singer who was born in Greenwood, Mississippi in 1893. He joined Jim Jackson on a medicine show as early as 1906 and worked such shows regularly for the next fifteen years. Prior to honing his musical skills he worked the shows as a comedian, sold corn medicine and liniment oils, or did vaudeville sketches, often in blackface. In 1927, Lewis made two trips to Chicago alongside his old friend Jim Jackson, with the purpose of cutting records for Vocalion. The sessions produced five sides in April and another six later in October of that year. Over the next two years, a total of 23 sides in all were recorded by Lewis for both the Vocalion and Victor labels.

Johnny Watson, alias Daddy Stovepipe was born in Mobile, Alabama, on April 12th 1867 and died in Chicago, November 1st 1963. A veteran of the turn of the century medicine shows, he was in his late fifties when he became one of the first blues harp players to appear on record in 1924. He later recorded with his wife, Mississippi Sarah, in the 1930s and spent his last years as a regular performer on Chicago's famous Maxwell Street, where he made his last recordings.

Daddy Stovepipe, Gennett Records Studio, 1924
Photograph From Talking Machine World

Hambone Willie Newbern had just one session, in Atlanta in 1929, at which he immortalized himself by making the first recording of "Roll And Tumble Blues". He was born about 1899, so John Estes, to whom Newbern gave some guitar tips believed. They met in Mississippi, working on medicine shows, and songs like "She Could Toodle.Oo", "Way Down In Arkansas" and "Nobody Knows (What The Good Deacon Does)" come from that background. Newbern was also capable of writing very personal blues like "Dreamy·Eyed Woman", and "Shelby County Workhouse Blues."

Crying Sam Collins was born in 1887, his stomping ground the Mississippi-Louisiana border region with a style similar to King Solomon Hill and Ramblin Thomas who were from the same region. Collins’ music draws from the era of minstrel and medicine show tradition reflected in songs like ‘Yellow Dog Blues”, “Salty Dog”, “Hesitation Blue’ and the first recorded version of “The Midnight Special.” His masterpieces, “Lonesome Road Blues” was a version of “In The Pines” which dates back to the 1870’s, and “My Road Is Rough And Rocky” which is a version of ”Long Gone.”

Born in 1891, Charlie Patton was older than the other Delta musicians who recorded during the golden age of the 1920s and 1930s, and he seems to have developed many of the themes that are now considered basic to the Delta blues repertoire. Remembered by history as a blues musician, Patton had grown up in the pre-blues era, and he played the full range of music required of a popular rural entertainer. Even though his recording career was sparked by the blues craze, only about half of his roughly fifty records can reasonably be considered part of that then-modern genre. The others are a mix of gospel and pre-blues music like “Runnin’ Wild Blues”, "Elder Greene" and “Prayer Of Death.”

Alec Johnson and Ben Covington were two other artists who's repertoire drew on a pre-blues song book. While nothing is know of Johnson’s background, the six sides he cut in 1928 strongly reflect the minstrel and coons songs just before the turn of the century; songs like “Next Week Sometime” which was published in 1905 while “Mysterious Coon” harks back to an even earlier period. Covington worked in minstrel shows and earned his name for pretending to be blind to help him earn extra money. According to bluesman Big Joe Williams, Covington toured with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, as well as various medicine shows and carnivals, and even worked as a sideshow attraction known as "The Human Pretzel." He recorded about a dozen sides between 1928 and 1932,  playing harmonica, banjo and mandolin.

Share
ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
J.T. Smith Howling Wolf Blues No. 1 The Original Howling Wolf 1930-31
J.T. Smith County Jail BluesThe Original Howling Wolf 1930-31
J.T. Smith Honey Blues The Original Howling Wolf 1930-31
Texas AlexanderDeep Blue Sea BluesTexas Alexander Vol. 1927-1928
Texas AlexanderThe Risin' SunTexas Alexander Vol. 1927-1928
Texas AlexanderSabine River Blues Texas Alexander Vol. 1927-1928
Henry ThomasTexas Worried Blues Texas Worried Blues
Henry ThomasCottonfield BluesTexas Worried Blues
Henry ThomasRailroadin' SomeTexas Worried Blues
Gene Campbell Somebody's Been Playin' PapaGene Campbell 1929-1931
Gene Campbell Robbin' and Stealin' BluesGene Campbell 1929-1931
Gene Campbell Overalls Papa BluesGene Campbell 1929-1931
Blind Lemon JeffersonOne Dime BluesThe Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonMatch Box BluesThe Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonThat Crawlin' Baby Blues The Best Of
J.T. SmithSeven Sisters Blues Part 1The Original Howling Wolf 1930-31
J.T. SmithFool's BluesJ. T. ''Funny Paper'' Smith 1930-1931
J.T. SmithHoppin' Toad FrogThe Original Howling Wolf 1930-31
Texas Alexander Boe Hog BluesTexas Alexander Vol. 1927-1928
Texas Alexander Johnny Behren's BluesTexas Alexander Vol. 2 1928-1930
Texas Alexander Seen Better Days Texas Alexander Vol. 2 1928-1930
Henry ThomasWoodhouse BluesTexas Worried Blues
Henry ThomasDon't Ease Me InTexas Worried Blues
Henry ThomasBull Doze BluesTexas Worried Blues
Gene Campbell "Toby'' Woman BluesToo Late Too Late Vol. 2
Gene Campbell Face to Face Blues Gene Campbell 1929-1931
Gene Campbell Wedding Day Blues Gene Campbell 1929-1931
Blind Lemon Jefferson'Lectric Chair BluesThe Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonSee That My Grave Is Kept CleanThe Best Of
Blind Lemon JeffersonRambler BluesThe Best Of
Henry Thomas Bob McKinneyTexas Worried Blues
Texas AlexanderTell Me Woman Blues Texas Alexander Vol. 2 1928-1930
Blind Lemon JeffersonLong Lonesome BluesThe Best Of

Show Notes:

To quote Tony Russell from the Penguin Guide To Blues: "All the companies involved in the blues business in the '20s and '30s made frequent recording trips to Dallas and San Antonio, and the music they collected and issued is a rich, colorful mixture of theatre and club artists, street singers and pianists circuit-riding the logging camps." In the 1920's Dallas became a recording center primarily because it is a geographical hub. The major race labels, those catering to a black audience, held regular sessions in Dallas. Okeh, Vocalion, Brunswick Columbia, RCA, and Paramount sent scouts and engineers to record local artists once or twice a year. Quite a number of sessions were also recorded in San Antonio with a few others cut in Fort Worth. Today we spotlight five of those artists: J.T. "Funny Papa" Smith, Texas Alexander, Henry Thomas, Gene Campbell and Blind Lemon Jefferson.

As Stephen Calt And Woody Man wrote in the notes to Funny Papa Smith: The Original Howling Wolf 1930-1931: "J.T. Smith ranks among the most significant Texas blues guitarists of the Twenties, along with Blind Lemon Jefferson and Little Hat Jones. His works are decidedly less offbeat than those of of the latter musicians; instead, they are practically definitive of what is known as Texas blues-playing. although Smith himself lived in Oklahoma at the time of his recording sessions. What little is known of him points up the possibility that he a pioneer of this very style, for he is believed to have been born more than a decade before the turn of the century. …Smith's lyrics were no less extraordinary than the variety of his blues-playing, and he remains one of the few recorded bluesman who could not only claim originality for his efforts but who made a real art of blues composition.

Smith was a minstrel who wandered about the panhandle region, performing at fairs, fish fries, dances and other community events (often in the company of figures including Tom Shaw, Texas Alexander and Bernice Edwards). Any lasting recognition Smith might have earned from a wide blues audience was undercut by a Depression recording debut and a recording career that  was short-circuited after the artist (an avid gambler) murdered a man in a gambling fracas. Between 1930 and 1931 he had recorded some twenty issued sides, more than any Texas artist of the period besides the even more obscure Gene Campbell. Evidently Smith's commercial billing as "Funny Paper Smith" was a gaffe on the part of record company officials. When Texas bluesman Tom Shaw met in Wickoffs, Oklahoma – a small town in the southwest corner of the state, between Grandfield and Frederick – te name "Funny Papa Smith"  was plainly stitched on his stovepipe hat and the work-overalls he customarily wore as the overseer of a local plantation. He was better known simply as Howling Wolf", the title of his debut recording. "That;s the one that made him famous," Shaw says of the song, which Smith recorded in two two-part versions.

…Shaw dates the killing episode to the latter part of 1930, but it more likely occurred the following year, as the first phase of Smith's recording career continued until the spring of 1931. In 1935 he recorded some eighteen sides (including Life In Prison Blues) but none of the works were released. A Fort Worth bluesman known as "Little Brother" who accompianed him on that date afterwards did a postwar version of Howling Wolf as Willie Lane." It's though smith passed away in 1940.

Texas Alexander was a Texan through and through, born in Jewett, Texas in 1900, passing in 1954 in Richards some seventy miles south (both towns lie about halfway between Dallas and Houston) and who was vividly remembered by fellow Texas bluesmen such as Lightnin' Hopkins, Lowell Fulson, Buster Pickens and Frankie Lee Sims. Alexander didn't play an instrument, although he did carry a guitar around in case their was a guitarist around who could accompany him when he sang on city streets or bars. Alexander's songs had a distinctly rural, southern viewpoint as evidenced in song titles such as "Corn-Bread Blues", "Levee Camp Moan Blues", "Farm Hand Blues", "Bantam Rooster Blues", "Bell Cow Blues", "Work Ox Blues", "Rolling Mill Blues" and "Prairie Dog Hole Blues" among others. "To the renters and 'croppers", Oliver wrote, "who had left the farms and bottom land plantations for the city, the voices of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Rambling Thomas or Texas Alexander were singing for them, sharing their own experiences and predicament. Crowds would cluster round them on Central Tracks and the coins would clatter-nickels and dimes-in their hats and tin cups." Alexander's lyrics are consistently interesting, often drawing on traditional motifs but stamped forcefully with his own personality, many of which finding their way into common blues parlance. Throughout his songs there is a frankness about sexuality that goes beyond the stock double entendre as well as strong anti-religious streak.Alexander was popular and prolific, cutting sixty-four issued sides between 1927 and 1934, first for Okeh and then for Vocalion. He had he good fortune to work with superb accompanists such as guitarists Little Hat Jones, Lonnie Johnson, Eddie Lang, Carl Davis, Willie Reed to the string band blues of the Mississippi Sheiks and the jazz bands of King Oliver and the mysterious His Sax Black Tams. Alexander didn't fare well in the post-war era; he was supposedly passed over by an Aladdin talent scout in favor of his then partner Lightnin' Hopkins (a demo tape was purportedly made) and made one final, rather unsatisfactory record for the Freedom label in 1950 before passing in 1954.

Alexander made his greatest records in the company of Lonnie Johnson at six sessions cut for Okeh between August 1927 and November 1928 at recording dates in San Antonio and New York City. Alexander's erratic sense of timing made him a challenge to work with as Lonnie Johnson related to Paul Oliver: "He was a very difficult singer to accompany; he was liable to jump a bar, or five bars, or anything. You just had to be a fast thinker to play for Texas Alexander. When you been out there with him you done nine days work in one! Believe me, brother, he was hard to play for."

All of Texas Alexander's recordings have been reissued on three volumes on the Matchbox label with good notes from Paul Oliver but rather uneven mastering. Unfortunately there is no single CD collection of Alexander's since Catfish's 98° Blues has been deleted. Also worth noting is the LP Texas Troublesome Blues on Agram which contains a very detailed booklet on Alexander's life and music. The Agram booklet written by Guido Van Rijn incorporated most of Lawrence Brown's 1981 research conducted with friends and relatives in Richards, Texas (Alexander's last residence 1951-54) which may be the only source where that information can found.

It was Mack McCormick who uncovered just about all we know about Henry Thomas which was published in the notes to Henry Thomas – "Ragtime Texas": Complete Recorded Works – 1927 to 1929 in Chronological Order on the Herwin label (read the entire notes below). McCormick's quest for information on Thomas began with an an encounter of a man he met in Houston in 1949 that he later became convinced was Henry Thomas. he even made a wire recording of the man which is now buried somewhere in McCormick's vast archive. As McCormick wrote: "As more of those old recordings came to light it became apparent that Henry Thomas was a singular and important figure. He left behind a total of 23 issued selections which represent one of the richest contributions to our musical culture. it"s goodtime music reaching out from another era: reels, anthems, stomps, gospel songs, dance calls, ballads, blues and fragments compressed in a blurring glimpse of black music as it existed in the last century. It's the songs that came out of the shifting days when freedmen and their children were remaking their lives in a hostile nation."Furthermore, "Ragtime Texas" was apparently the nickname by which he was known by other transients who rode the rails. McCormick explains, It's a hobo moniker. It isn't so much a musical designation as it is an assumed title of the same order as "Chicago Red" and "T-Bone Slim" and other such celebrities. It's a name to be written on water towers and box cars. Moreover it's a moniker remembered in parts of Oklahoma and Louisiana and Texas, but known best along a 150-mile strip of East Texas. This is the area he came from and it's here that fragments of his story have turned up."

Henry Thomas, nicknamed "Ragtime Texas", was born in 1874 in Big Sandy, Texas by most accounts, a town which lies roughly between Dallas and Shreveport. The 1874 date marks him as one of the eldest-born blues performers on record."Flailing his guitar", Tony Russell writes, "in now forgotten country dance rhythms, whistling delicate melodies on his panpies, gruffly chanting rag songs and blues, Thomas is a figure of almost legend." The portrait Thomas presents on his twenty-three recordings cut for Vocalion between 1927 to 1929 provides, Russell notes, "a wholly absorbing picture of black-country music before it was submerged beneath the tidal wave of the blues." Thomas embodied the term songster, cutting blues, rags, country stomps, refashioned coon songs and square dance numbers. Thomas was the archetypal rambling musician who went wherever the railroads would take him. According to Mack McCormick, as told to him from a former railroad conductor, "Ragtime Texas was a big fellow that used to come aboard at Gladewater or Mineola or somewhere in there. I'd always carry him, except when he was too dirty. He was a regular hobo, but I'd carry him most of the time. That guitar was his ticket." Speaking of his famous "Railroadin' Some", William Barlow calls it the most "vivid and intense recollection of railroading" in all the early blues recorded in the 1920's. As for his guitar, Stephen Calt ranked his work "with the finest dance blues ever recorded…its intricate simultaneous treble picking and drone bass would have posed a challenge to any blues guitarist of any era." The pan pipes also linked him to an earlier era and are most evocative in perhaps his best-known composition, "Bull Doze Blues", a song reworked by Canned Heat as "Going Up The Country", some 40 years after the original. After making his final recordings in Chicago in 1929, Henry Thomas disappeared completely from sight. Befitting his near-mythic stature some reports claim to have seen him perform as late as the mid-1950's on Texas street corners. It is believed that he most likely passed away sometime during this period. All of Thomas' recordings can be found on Texas Worried Blues on Yazoo and Henry Thomas ('Ragtime Texas') 1927-1929 on Document with little difference in sound quality although the Yazoo features detailed notes by Stephen Calt.


The following was extracted from Paul Swinton's A Twist Of  Lemon in issue 121 of Blues & Rhythm magazine (read the entire article below): "Although he was not the first male country blues singer/guitarist to record, Blind Lemon Jefferson was the first to succeed commercially and his success influenced previously reluctant record companies to actively seek out and record male country blues players in the hope of finding a similar talent. Throughout the’20s Lemon spearheaded a boom in ‘race’ record sales that featured male down-home blues singers and such was the appeal of his recordings that in turn they were responsible for inspiring a whole new generation of blues singers." Jefferson was the most heavily advertised blues artist, just behind Lonnie Johnson and Bessie Smith, with forty-four ads appearing in the Chicago Defender between 1926 and 1930.During the course of his career recorded 110 sides including alternate takes.

Jefferson was still a teenager when he moved into Dallas. The black community in Dallas were settled in an area covering approximately six blocks around Central Avenue up to Elm Street, the centre of which was Deep Ellum, a bustling thoroughfare full of bars, clubs and brothels. In its heyday, guitarists like Little Hat Jones and Funny Papa Smith were among the numerous blues artists seen on these streets. …Jefferson continued to travel far and wide, followed the cotton crops and visited most of the major cities in the South. …Occasionally he would have a young man to ‘lead’ for him (both the young Josh White and Aaron ‘T Bone’ Walker were both employed in this capacity at one time) and as he moved from state to state, he would occasionally hitch up with other musicians.

By 1925 Paramount Records was doing good business with its ‘race’ series. It mainly consisted of big-selling female vaudeville blues singers like Ida Cox and Ma Rainey, banjo player ‘Papa’ Charlie Jackson and various Jazz outfits. They had managed to set up some unique distribution arrangements, being the first company to instigate a mail order service and also to secure major southern wholesalers for their ‘race’ records. The majority of their affairs were handled in either Port Washington, Wisconsin, by Art Liably, whose official title was ‘recording director’, but who mainly took charge of sales, or in Chicago by Mayo Williams (the first ever coloured executive in a white recording company), who had control of Artists & Repertoire. Liably had secured a deal with Dallas record store manager R. T. Ashford to sell Paramount records. Soon after, either Ashford or possibly pianist Sam Price (who at this time was working as a salesman under Ashford), contacted Liably with the suggestion that they record a local celebrity. In due course Jefferson was bought to the studio in Chicago and one of the most successful recording careers of the pre-war era began. Jefferson’s first release, ‘Booster Blues’ & ‘Dry Southern Blues’, came out in or around March 1926. It captured the imagination of black record buyers and became a massive hit. …Throughout 1926 there was a constant supply of new releases from Jefferson, ‘Black Horse Blues’, ‘Jack O’ Diamond Blues’ and ‘That Black Snake Moan’ were among these classic numbers. At times there was a near perfect harmonic and rhythmic counterpoint between voice and guitar and after the delivery of each line, instead of a repetitive fill, Jefferson produced a staggering array of original licks and single string runs. …So popular were Jefferson’s releases, that on more than one occasion the masters that pressed a particular 78 became so overused and worn out that Jefferson would have to return to the studio to re-make the title.

The continuing successful sales of Jefferson’s records and the resulting increase in his fame would seem to have guaranteed large attendances for the personal appearances that he made throughout the country and especially in his home state. …Although Jefferson is said to have remained a resident of Dallas, Texas, he traveled north on so many occasions, it is not surprising that current research by Chris Henderson suggests that Jefferson spent some time resident in South Calumet Avenue, on Chicago’s South Side12 and a recent interview with the son of Paramount founder/ president Otto Moeser revealed that BLJ would stay at the Moeser residence on Grand Avenue, Port Washington, Wisconsin. In the last year of his life Jefferson was as popular as ever and still traveling extensively." Lemon's last recording session was on Tuesday 24th September 1929. Swinton notes that drawing from various sources, "it seems reasonable to conclude that BLJ probably died of a heart attack on or around the 18/19th December 1929. …After BLJ’s death, none of the northern newspapers printed the news of his demise, in fact for a couple of months, Paramount continued to issue records and accompanying advertisements as if nothing had happened."

Virtually nothing is known about vocalist-guitarist Gene Campbell other than the fact he recorded 24 solo selections (two songs are lost). Campbell recorded on five sessions in Dallas and Chicago within a 14-month period between 1929 and 1931. What happened to him after the final Jan. 23, 1931 record date is not known. Tony Russell wrote the following about Campbell: " Many echoes in his vocal and instrumental phrasing and tone reveal Campbell as a student of the work of Lonnie Johnson – not only Johnson's own records but also his accompanists to Texas Alexander ….There are also fleeting similarities in Campbell's guitar playing to that of Little Hat Jones and, in 'Robbin' and Stealin' Blues', Carl Davis. …There is something striking about his work -and in this respect it is impossible not to be reminded of J.T. Smith, a contemporary and fellow Texan who recorded for the same company – namely, his literacy and his ability to stay focused on the subject of the subject of a song and not fall back on formulaic verses."

-A Twist Of  Lemon by Paul Swinton,  Blues & Rhythm No. 121 (PDF)

-Henry Thomas – "Ragtime Texas": Complete Recorded Works notes by Mack McCormick (PDF)
(you may have to magnify and rotate to read this but it's well worth the effort)

Share
ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Cow Cow Davenport5th Street Blues Boogie Woogie Blues
Cow Cow DavenportJim Crow BluesThe Essential
Cow Cow DavenportCow Cow BluesThe Essential
Charlie SpandSoon This Morning Dreaming The Blues
Charlie SpandGood GalDreaming The Blues
Charlie SpandBack To The Woods BluesDreaming The Blues
Cripple Clarence LoftonYou Done Tore Your Playhouse DownCripple Clarence Lofton: Vol.1 1935-1939
Cripple Clarence LoftonStrut That Thing Cripple Clarence Lofton: Vol.1 1935-1939
Cripple Clarence LoftonBrown Skin GirlsCripple Clarence Lofton: Vol.1 1935-1939
Walter RolandRed Cross BluesLucille Bogan & Walter Roland: The Essential
Walter RolandPenniless BluesLucille Bogan & Walter Roland: The Essential
Walter RolandJookit JookitLucille Bogan & Walter Roland: The Essential
Cow Cow DavenportChimes BluesThe Essential
Cow Cow DavenportThat'll Get ItThe Essential
Cow Cow DavenportState Street JiveThe Essential
Charlie SpandThirsty Woman BluesCharlie Spand: 1929-1931
Charlie SpandMoanin' The BluesDreaming The Blues
Charlie SpandHastings St.Dreaming The Blues
Cripple Clarence LoftonLofty BluesCripple Clarence Lofton: Vol.2 1939-1943
Cripple Clarence LoftonI Don't KnowBoogie Woogie Piano: Chicago-New York 1924-45
Walter Roland45 Pistol BluesLucille Bogan & Walter Roland: The Essential
Walter RolandEarly This Morning ('Bout Break Of Day)Lucille Bogan & Walter Roland: The Essential
Walter RolandRailroad StompWalter Roland: Vol. 1 1933
Cow Cow DavenportMama Don't Allow No Easy RidersThe Essential
Cow Cow DavenportRailroad BluesThe Essential
Charlie SpandRoom Rent BluesDreaming The Blues
Charlie SpandAin't Gonna Stand For ThatDreaming The Blues
Cripple Clarence LoftonCrying Mother Blues Broadcasting The Blues
Cripple Clarence LoftonStreamline Train Cripple Clarence Lofton: Vol.2 1939-1943
Walter RolandHouse Lady BluesWalter Roland: Vol. 1 1933
Walter RolandBig MamaLucille Bogan & Walter Roland: The Essential

Show Notes:

Today's show spotlights a quartet of great, mostly little remembered, barrelhouse and boogie pianists who's heyday was in the 1920's and 30's. Piano blues records were very popular on record in the 20's and 30's and by the early 1940's there was a full-fledged Boogie-Woogie craze. Today's pianists plied their trade in the juke joints, clubs and rent parties of Chicago, Detroit and down south. Today's best known artist is undoubtedly Cow Cow Davenport who's "Cow Cow Blues" has become a standard. Also on deck are the extroverted piano work of the colorful Cripple Clarence Lofton and the more subtle and technically adept playing of once popular race artists, Walter Roland and Charlie Spand. The bulk of today's notes come from Peter Silvester's A Left Hand Like God: A History of Boogie-Woogie Piano and from the liner notes to Francis Smith's groundbreaking 21 volume piano series on the Magpie label.

While the piano blues is something of a declining art form it flourished on record in the 1920’s-30’s and with the boogie-woogie craze of the 1940’s. To quote Peter J. Silvester’s A Left Hand Like God: A History of Boogie-Woogie Piano: "Originating in barrelhouses and entertainment spots that served the black labor force who worked in the lumber and railroad industries throughout the deep south, it could be heard later at rent parties in Chicago, buffet flats in St. Louis and other black urban centers like Birmingham, Al and several towns in Texas among others. When the music evolved into boogie-woogie entering New York nightclubs like Café Society, pianists such as Meade Lux Lewis, Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons became stars. In the 1940’s the boogie-woogie craze hit big but faded by the 1950’s."

Cow Cow Davenport is remembered most for his famous song "Cow Cow Blues" which has elements of the style that would flourish as boogie-woogie. Davenport learned to play piano and organ in his father's church from his mother who was the organist and it looked like he was going to follow in the family footsteps until he was expelled from the Alabama Theological Seminary in 1911 for playing Ragtime at a church function. Davenport's early career revolved around carnivals and vaudeville. His first break in pursuit of his objective came when he was offered work as a pianist at a club on 18th Street. Unable to read music, he began to compose his own tunes and to improve his keyboard skills, but he could still play in only one key. With a larger repertoire and a sharper technique he now began to tour the mining towns of Alabama playing in the honky-tonks. It was at one of these establishments hat he was heard by Bob Davies, a trained pianist, who ran a touring company called the 'Barkroot Carnival'. Davies invited Davenport to join the show as the pianist. One of the requirements was to accompany the women singers, which necessitated being able ro play in several keys. Davies took Davenport under his wing and began to teach him.

He toured TOBA with an act called Davenport and Company with Blues singer Dora Carr and they recorded together in 1925 and 1926. The act broke up when Carr got married. Davenport didn't cut a 78 record until 1927 although prior to that he made a number of piano rolls between 1925 and 1927 including three versions of "Cow Cow Blues." Cow Cow was desperate for money, so he negotiated with a piano-roll company, called the Vocal Style, to make some piano rolls of his new composition. Neither Mr Miller, the owner, nor any of the musical stores in Cincinnati, where the company was situated, would handle the piano rolls, so Cow Cow traveled from house to house selling them. He managed t o do this successfully o an equal-share basis with the manufacturer until he had repaid the cost of cutting the rolls. As the rolls sold well, Miller included 'Cow Cow Blues' on the company's catalog  of piano rolls. We open our show with one of those rolls, "5th Street Blues", which was made in 1926.

As for Cow Cow's most famous song it came about when Dora left. He was deeply upset by this, so much so that he composed the "Railroad Blues", which finally took form as the "Cow Cow Blues". The new name was said to have been inspired by a section in the music where Charles was trying to use musical imagery to describe the signalman boarding the engine from the front of the train where the cow catcher was situated. During one theater engagement shortly after he had composed the number, and while playing the section, he sang, 'Nobody rocks me like my Papa Cow Cow do.' There was no particular reason why he introduced the expression "cow cow" but the name stuck and thereafter Charles was known to his fellow-pianists and his friends as "Cow Cow" Davenport.

Davenport briefly teamed up with Blues singer Ivy Smith in 1928 and worked as a talent scout for Brunswick and Vocalion records in the late 1920's and played rent parties in Chicago. They formed an act called the Chicago Steppers which lasted for some months and, in 1928, the partnership began to record for the Paramount Company. Among these sides were "Jim Crow Blues", a reflection of Davenport's racist experiences in the South:

I'm tired of being Jim Crowed, gonna Leave this Jim Crow town
Doggone my black soul, I'm sweet Chicago bound

Yes I'm leaving here from this old Jim Crow town
I'm going up North where they say money grows on trees
I don't give a doggone if my black soul is free
I'm going where I don't need no baby

Jimmy Yancey(left) listens to Charlie Spand,
Chicago, 1940's. Photo from A Left Hand Like God.

He moved to Cleveland, Ohio in 1930 and toured the TOBA vaudeville circuit and recorded with Sam Price. In 1938 Davenport suffered a stroke that left his right hand somewhat paralyzed and affected his piano playing for the rest of his life, but he remained active as a vocalist until he regained enough strength in his hand to play again. In the early 1940's Cow Cow briefly left the music business and worked as a washroom attendant at the Onyx Club on 52nd Street in New York. In 1942 Freddie Slack's Orchestra scored a huge hit with "Cow Cow Boogie" with vocals by seventeen year old Ella Mae Morse which sparked the Boogie-Woogie craze of the early 1940s; this led to a revival of interest in Davenport's music. He tried to make a "comeback" in the forties and fifties but his career was often interrupted by sickness. He died in 1955 of heart problems in Cleveland.

Despite his popularity, Charlie Spand remains a shadowy figure despite numerous attempts to uncover his story. The first factual information about Charlie Spand is his residence in Detroit, Michigan, where he played piano on Hastings and Brady Streets in the Black Bottom, Detroit’s black section. Together with pianists James Hemingway, Hersal Thomas and Will Ezell, Spand formed the boogie nucleus of the city. He likely also performed in Chicago as well during this period.

Spand’s recording career started for Paramount on 6th June, 1929; during the next two years he recorded 24 songs. He cut two titles at this first session: "Soon This Morning Blues" and "Fetch Your Water" with the accompanying guitarist thought to have been Blind Blake. Probably recorded by Paramount on the suggestion of Blake, Spand's first record was a hit. After three records he was considered important enough to be included on the Paramount "sampler" "Home Town Skiffle" alongside such established artists as Blind Lemon Jefferson, Papa Charlie Jackson, the Hokum Boys, Will Ezell and Blind Blake." By 1929 Spand had moved to Chicago, and recorded "45th Street Blues" at Grafton in 1930, the title being an indication of his recent Chicago address. In September 1930 Spand traveled to Grafton to record some more titles for Paramount, six in total. Spand’s last session for the Paramount label was recorded in Grafton, Wisconsin in July 1931, by which time the company was on its last legs.

Nothing much is known about Spand’s activities during the 1930's, although it is rumored that he returned to Detroit. Boogie-woogie was in full swing by the late 1930's. Artists like Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons and Jimmy Yancey embraced the popularity of boogie-woogie and were subsequently recorded during the 1939-1940 period. Spand may have taken advantage of the revival of interest in piano blues and boogie-woogie. He got the opportunity to do two separate recording sessions for OKeh, on 20th and 27th June, 1940, recording a total of eight songs, including a remake of his "Soon This Morning." No major rediscovery story resulted and no coverage was given on the whereabouts of Spand, in contrast to Lofton and Yancey. After his final 1940 sessions there is concrete information about Spand. Several sources believed that he died in Chicago around 1975.

Regarding his style,  Bob Hall and Richard Noblett write in the Piano Blues vol. 16: "His playing was typical of the Detroit pianists of his day, essentially consisting of two main styles, an insistent rolling-boogie using a walking octave bass in the key of F or occasionally in the key of Bb,and a deliberate, at times almost majestic, barrelhouse style using a stride piano bass …it is however, his lyrics that set Span apart from his contemporaries. Not only have numbers like "Soon This Morning" become blues standards, but we hear in his work very strong indications of the future direction of the music. His songs frequently have a continuity which come from a genuine sense of poetry rather than the mere stringing together of traditional verses. Spand was in fact one of the first real blues song-writers, foreshadowing the work of such 'thirties artists as Leroy Carr."

Cripple Clarence Lofton (left) and Jimmy Yancey,
c. 1950's. Photo from  A Left Hand Like God.

Cripple Clarence Lofton was born as Albert Clemens in Tennessee in 1887, although he is most closely associated with his adopted hometown of Chicago, where he was a popular entertainer noted for his energetic performing style that, in addition to piano playing and singing, included tap dancing, whistling, and finger-snapping.A description of Lofton is provided in an excerpt from Boogie Woogie by William Russell:

"No one can complain of Clarence's lack of variety or versatility. When he really gets going he's a three-ring circus. During one number, he plays, sings, whistles a chorus, and snaps his fingers with the technique of a Spanish dancer to give further percussive accompaniment to his blues. At times he turns sideways, almost with his back to the piano as he keeps pounding away at the keyboard and stomping his feet, meanwhile continuing to sing and shout at his audience or his drummer. Suddenly in the middle of a number he jumps up, his hands clasped in front of him, and walks around the piano stool, and then, unexpectedly, out booms a vocal break in a bass voice from somewhere. One second later, he has turned and is back at the keyboard, both hands flying at lightning- like pace. His actions and facial expressions are as intensely dramatic and exciting as his music."

Owing his nickname to a limp from which he suffered, he became a favorite of early jazz collectors during the boogie-woogie craze of the late 1930's along with Meade Lux Lewis, Jimmy Yancey, Cow Cow Davenport, and many others. Born in Tennessee he lived most of his life in Chicago becoming a fixture on the Chicago nightlife scene. He owned his own nightclub called the Big Apple where he ran his own boogie school teaching youngsters the art form. Between 1935 and 1943 he cut close to forty sides for Vocalion, Swaggie, Solo Art and Session including exuberant pieces such as “Brown Skin Girls,” “Policy Blues,” “Streamline Train,” and “I Don’t Know,” the latter a number one R&B hit for Willie Mabon in 1952. The bulk of these were solo sides with guitarist Big Bill Broonzy adding support for two sessions. In addition Lofton provided accompaniment to Red Nelson, Sammy Brown, Al Miller and Jimmy Yancey. Lofton remained on the scene cutting sides for the Gennett, Vocalion, Solo Art, Riverside, Session and Pax labels. He stayed around Chicago until his death in 1957 from a blood clot in the brain.

As for his playing style, Peter Silvester writes:  "Lofton was an eclectic performer who played in two keys, C and G. While his pounding style and interpretation were his own he obtained inspiration from the themes of other pianists. His most compelling composition, 'Streamline Train', was inspired by 'Cow Cow Blues', while 'Pinetop's Boogie-woogie' was transformed into a very powerful and almost unrecognizable number. He was an undisciplined pianist and would often begin playing a new chorus before he had fully completed the one he was playing. The twelve-bar pattern would sometimes be reduced to ten, as was the case in 'I Don't Know' or eleven and a half bars, as in some interpretations of 'Streamline Train'. What he lacked in discipline, however, he more than made up for with vivacity and exuberance. I n some respects he can be compared to players like Jimmy Yancey and Montana Taylor, because their playing was untouched by time and their recordings reflected accurately the closed community of the rent party. None of them was required to perform relentlessly for the public, as Johnson, Ammons and Lewis were obliged to do when they became commercially popular. Lofton remained untouched by commercialism to the end."

As Bob Hall and Richard Noblett write in the Piano Blues vol. 6: "In the annals of the blues there are many artists who have made outstanding contributions to the music, but whose personal lives remain a mystery. Just such a man is Walter Roland, who during the Depression, recorded over ninety issued sides for ARC as a soloist and accompanist."As for his style and influence, they write: "…There is no doubt that Roland was a major and highly influential figure in his time, and his recorded output contains compositions which have become part of the repertoire of a host of younger musicians. …He was a highly accomplished pianist capable of playing in two distinct styles. The first employed a simple rolling boogie woogie bass, most often in the key of F, played in a variety of tempos. The second, less common barrelhouse style employed a stride piano bass of alternating octaves and chords, usually in the key of E. Throughout Roland's work certain distinctive treble phrases emerge, and particularly striking is his use of repeated single note staccato triplets, foreshadowing the use of the same device by the post-war Chicago pianists."

Roland was born at Ralph, Tuscaloosa County, Alabama on 20 December 1902 (according to his Social Security documents) or 4 December 1903 (according to his death certificate). Roland was one of the most technically proficient of all blues pianists, and in addition he displayed considerable feeling in his playing and singing. He was also an able guitarist, and recorded several titles backing his own vocals and those of others, playing guitar. Roland was said to have been based in the 1920's or 1930's around Pratt City, near Birmingham, Alabama.

Walter Roland

Although his recording career began in 1933, it is evident that Walter was already an accomplished musician with a fully formed style. Roland partnered Lucille Bogan when they recorded for the A R C labels between 1933 and 1935, in the course of which, he recorded in his own right. Walter's first disc, "Red Cross Blues" has since become a blues standard, versions having been recorded by Sonny Scott, Sonny Boy Williamson, Champion Jack Dupree, Robert McCoy, Forest City Joe, and many others. In 1933, he was recorded at New York City for the American Record Company, and he had apparently traveled to the session with Lucille Bogan and guitarist Sonny Scott. His best-selling recording was "Early This Morning", a reworking of an earlier Paramount recording by Charlie Spand, "Soon This Morning", but Walter was successful enough to continue recording until 1935.

At some later time, possibly as late as 1950, Walter became a farmer. Roland was reputedly playing guitar as a street singer in the 1960's. As well as Birmingham, he worked around Dolomite and the Interurban Heights, around Brighton and elsewhere. In about the late 1960's, Walter was trying to be a peacemaker in a domestic argument between a neighboring husband and wife and one of the disputing parties fired a shotgun, with the result that Walter was blinded by buckshot. By 1968, Walter had retired from music because of his blindness, and was cared for by his daughters at Fairfield, near Miles College. In 1968, he applied for an old age pension. He died there of bronchogenic carcinoma on 12 October 1972.

Related Articles:

-Charlie Spand – Back To The Woods by Alex van der Tuuk (Blues & Rhythm No. 217, 2007) (PDF)

-Cripple Clarence Lofton In Memoriam by Albert J. McCarthy (Jazz Monthly, November 1957 p. 31-32) (PDF)

-Walter Roland Blazed Through Music World Then Faded by Ben Windham (Tuscaloosa News Feb 27, 2000) (PDF)

-The Piano Blues Vol. 6: Walter Roland 1933-1935 (JPG)

-The Piano Blues Vol. 9: Lofton/Noble 1935-1936 (JPG)

-The Piano Blues Vol. 16: Charlie Spand 192-1931 (JPG)

Share
ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Henry ThomasRun, Mollie, RunTexas Worried Blues
Henry ThomasOld Country StompTexas Worried Blues
Gus Cannon My Money Never Runs OutGood for What Ails You
William Moore Ragtime MillionaireBroadcasting The Blues
Luke Jordan Pick Poor Robin CleanBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Texas Alexander Levee Camp MoanBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Andrew & Jim Baxter Bamalong BluesBefore The Blues Vol. 1
Bogus Ben Covington Adam And Eve In The GardenAlabama Black Country Dance Bands 1924 - 1949
Frank Stokes Chicken You Can Roost Behind The MoonBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Frank Stokes I Got MineThe Best of Frank Stokes
Peg Leg Howell Beaver Slide RagViolin, Sing The Blues For Me
Henry Williams & Eddie Anthony Georgia CrawlFolks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!
Daddy Stovepipe & Mississippi Sarah The SpasmGood For What Ails You
Bo Chatman Good Old Turnip Greens Folks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!
Beans Hambone & El Morrow BeansGood For What Ails You
Cannon's Jug Stompers Feather BedBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Jim Jackson I Heard the Voice of a PorkchopGood For What Ails You
Jim Jackson Bye, Bye, PolicemanGood For What Ails You
Richard ''Rabbit'' Brown Never Let The Same Bee Sting You TwiceNever Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Papa Harvey Hull Hey! Lawdy Mama -The France BluesNever Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Pink Anderson & Simmie Dooley Gonna Tip Out, TonightGood For What Ails You
Mississippi John Hurt Stack O'Lee Blues Avalon Blues - 1928 Recordings
Mississippi John Hurt Spike Driver’s BluesAvalon Blues - 1928 Recordings
Furry Lewis Kassie JonesBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Joe Evans & Arthur McClain John HenryBefore The Blues Vol. 3
Alec Johnson Next Week SometimeMississippi Strings Bands & Associates
Hambone Willie Newbern Nobody Knows (What The Good Deacon Does)Never Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice
Stovepipe #1 & David Crockett A Chicken Can Waltz the Gravy AroundGood For What Ails You
Crying Sam Collins Lonesome Road BluesBefore The Blues Vol. 1
Charlie Patton Elder GreenScreamin' & Hollerin' The Blues
Mississippi Sheiks He’s In The Jailhouse Now Mississippi Sheiks Vol. 2 1930-1931
Blind Blake Champaign Charlie Is My Name The Best of Blind Blake
Hezekiah Jenkins Shout, You CatsGood For What Ails You

Show Notes:

The blues emerged around  1900, rapidly became very popular and was widespread by the teens. When recording started, there were still musicians around who performed material from the older traditions – men generally called songsters. Originally a 'songster' was a songbook but the term was adapted by African-Americans to mean a singer, as Howard Odum noted in  1911: "In general 'songster' is used to denote any Negro who regularly sings or makes songs: 'musicianer' applies often to the individual who claims to be expert with the banjo or fiddle." In the 1920's and 30's when black music first came on record blues scholar Paul Oliver noted that "for a dozen years a remarkable documentation of black vocal traditions was purchasable on commercial releases. …The diversity of singers, entertainers, jazz bands, preachers and other black artists represented on these records was remarkable.” Prior to the blues, reaching back to the nineteenth century there was a variety of black music before it got on record; there was ragtime, black vaudeville, minstrels, coon songs, work songs, dance tunes, medicine show entertainers, sheet music that found its way into black music and emphasis on banjo and fiddle music among other types. Songs were spread by traveling songsters, black road troupes, minstrel shows, tent shows and medicine shows. Although this music was not captured on record when it was in vogue many of these forms found their way onto records when blues was being recorded. Older musicians, born in the 1860's through the 1880's, learned early forms of black music that they brought to their records when they had the opportunity to record in the 20's and 30's. Some of it was shaped to fit the blues, the popular music of the day, while other songs remain more or less intact as performed by blacks decades prior. This was the  music of men like Henry Thomas, Jim Jackson, Frank Stokes, Daddy Stovepipe, Papa Charlie Jackson, the music of the jug and string bands and the music of the songsters and ballad singers. The records these men, and to a lesser extent women, recorded gives us a fascinating glimpse of the era before the rise of the blues. These older styles didn't disappear but remained parallel to the blues. An example of this is that as late as the mid-1910s the term "up-to-date coon shouter" was routinely applied to the likes of Clara Smith, Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith; but around 1916 they were redefined as "blues singers." Eventually these older styles were eclipsed by the popularity of blues although these older styles were still being performed in black communities into the 60's, 70's and beyond.

I've long been fascinated by this, for lack of a better term, pre-blues material and today's program will be the first installment of a multi-part feature. I'm far from an expert on the black musical styles before the blues but luckily I was able to draw on some excellent books, several of which have been published in recent years. In addition to these books, I finally got around to reading Paul Oliver's excellent Songsters And Saints published in 1984 and a valuable resource for today's program. Since then several superb books have been published; Ragged But Right: Black Traveling Shows, "Coon Songs", and the Dark Pathway to Blues and Jazz, Out of Sight: The Rise of African American Popular Music, 1889-1895, Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry, 1890-1919 and Long Lost Blues: Popular Blues in America, 1850-1920. In addition there are several fine anthologies of pre-blues recordings. Among those featured today are Before The Blues Vol. 1-3 on Yazoo, Document's 3-CD set Never Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice: Blues, Ballads, Rags And Gospel In The Songster Tradition plus several on Old Hat including the 2-CD Good For What Ails You: Music of the Medicine Shows 1926-1937, Folks He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!: Vintage Fiddle Music 1927-1935 and Violin, Sing The Blues For Me: African-American Fiddlers, 1926-1949. Below is some background on some today's artists and songs.

Henry Thomas, billed as "Ragtime Texas", was born in Big Sandy, Texas in 1874, and began his musical career as an itinerant songster, and recorded twenty-three songs from 1927 to 1929. He accompanied himself with the guitar and the quills, a folk instrument made from cane reeds. “Flailing his guitar”, Tony Russell writes, “in now forgotten country dance rhythms, whistling delicate melodies on his panpies, gruffly chanting rag songs and blues, Thomas is a figure of almost legend.” The portrait Thomas presents on his twenty-three recordings cut for Vocalion between 1927 to 1929 provides, Russell notes, “a wholly absorbing picture of black-country music before it was submerged beneath the tidal wave of the blues.” Thomas embodied the term songster, cutting blues, rags, country stomps, refashioned coon songs and square dance numbers. Thomas was the archetypal rambling musician who went wherever the railroads would take him. According to Mack McCormick, as told to him from a former railroad conductor, “Ragtime Texas was a big fellow that used to come aboard at Gladewater or Mineola or somewhere in there. I’d always carry him, except when he was too dirty. He was a regular hobo, but I’d carry him most of the time. That guitar was his ticket.”

The song "Pick Poor Robin Clean" has shadowy origins but it likely dates to the turn of the century. The song was picked up by songster Luke Jordan who recorded the number in 1927. The song was also recorded by Elvie Thomas & Geechie Wiley in 1931. Jordan was born January 28, 1892 , possibly either Appomattox or Campbell county, Virginia he died June 25, 1952, Lynchburg, Virginia. The blues scene in pre-war Virginia was poorly documented at the time and few of its members managed to record. Post-war research by Bruce Bastin reveals that Jordan was a key figure in the blues enclave centered around Lynchburg. Victor Records discovered him in 1927 and he recorded for them in Charlotte, North Carolina, in August of that year. Jordan's records sold well enough to justify transporting him to New York for a further two sessions in November 1929.

Frank Stokes and partner Dan Sane recorded as The Beale Street Shieks, a Memphis answer to the musical Chatmon family string band, the Mississippi Shieks. By most accounts Stokes was already playing the streets of Memphis by the turn of the century, about the same time the blues began to flourish. As a street artist, he needed a broad repertoire of songs and patter palatable to blacks and whites. A medicine show and house party favorite, Stokes was remembered as a consummate entertainer who drew on songs from the 19th and 20th centuries with equal facility. Solo or with Sane and sometimes fiddler Will Batts, Stokes recorded 38 sides for Paramount and Victor. Of today's featured songs, “I Got Mine” was published by a white composer in 1901 and taken up by black songsters while “Chicken You Can Roost Behind The Moon” has its roots in a song published in 1899. “Chicken” was a Coon song, a genre of music popular primarily in the 1880’s and 1890’s, that presented a racist and stereotyped image of blacks that were sung by both whites and blacks.

”My Money Never Runs Out” also has roots from the turn of the century and was composed by Irving Jones and published in 1900. Jones published songs as early as 1892, several of which found their way onto race records in the 1920’s. Today we hear the song as performed by Gus Cannon who recorded the song thirty years later with his band Cannon’s Jug Stompers. Cannon launched his medicine show career in 1914 when he joined Doc Stokey of Clarksdale, Mississippi. He later joked that Stokey's tonic sold "one bottle for a quarter, or three for a dollar!" A tour with  Doc Benson's show took Cannon to Chicago in 1927, where he auditioned for Paramount Records and recorded a session with ace guitar picker Blind Blake. ”My Money Never Runs Out” was advertised, with a short extract on the back cover by another piece by Irving Jones called “Ragtime Millionaire.” The song may be one of the earliest to make reference to the blues. We hear the song today as recorded by William Moore who recorded the number for Paramount in 1928. A resident of Tappahannock, Virginia, Moore recorded sixteen sides for Paramount in 1928.

Peg Leg Howell was born in 1888, arrived in Atlanta in 1923 and was recorded by Columbia in November 1926. The first session featured Howell solo and are certainly appealing but it’s the rough, exciting stringband music he recorded with His Gang that really grabs attention. The gang consisted of Henry Williams on guitar and the infectious alley fiddle of Eddie Anthony. Williams and Anthony recorded together without Howell on “Georgia Crawl” b/w “Lonesome Blues” on April 19, 1928. Unfortunately the trio only made a handful of recordings as Williams apparently died in jail in January 1930 while serving time for vagrancy and Anthony passed in 1934, after which Howell gave up music. Many of Howell’s blues verses date to shortly after the turn of the century. “Georgia Crawl” may be related to a song published in 1913 as the 'Georgia Grind", a later done by pianist Jimmy Blythe with the song picked up by several bands and singers including Duke Ellington's Washingtonians and Louis Armstrong. It's impossible to say where the duo picked up the tune.

Pink Anderson spent many years on the road with medicine shows and learned guitar from his early partner Simmie Dooley, and older musician who was born in 1881. They recorded four titles together in 1928. Anderson was born in South Carolina and toured throughout the Southeast with a variety of medicine shows during 1915-1945, picking up work wherever he could. He was employed not only as a musician and a singer but as a dancer and comedian. Anderson was extensively recorded by Sam Charters in 1961 resulting in three albums of material. From the notes to the compilation Good For What Ails You, Marshall Wyatt gives us some background on the medicine show: " Medicine shows flourished in the years following the Civil War when America's patent medicine industry was booming, and governmental regulations were few. Often called "med shows" for short, or simply "doctor shows," they were also extolled as "psysic operas" and their route was known as the "kerosene circuit" for the fuel that illuminated their stages at night. Whatever the name, music was always a crucial ingredient. Onstage, musicians served up a variety of comic songs, parodies, popular favorites, novelties, folk songs, dance tunes, and instrumental specialties. In the early decades of the 20th century, new musical forms, such as as jazz and blues, were added to the mix. …Such noted bluesmen as Sleepy John Estes, Sonny Terry, and Big Joe Williams spent time with the med shows, as did a whole constellation of Memphis singers and jug-band musicians, including Will Shade, Jim Jackson, and Frank Stokes.

Born in the 1880’s, Jim Jackson was an experienced medicine show performer and occasional street singer. The Mississippi born Jackson had one of the biggest blues hits of the 20’s with his “Jim Jackson’s Kansas City Blues.”  His recordings represent one of the richest veins of pre-blues music to be issued on record. Among these are songs like “I’m A  Bad Bad Man” which draws on a composition from 1894 and “I’m Gonna Start Me A Graveyard Of My Own” which dates to 1901. Barrelhouse pianist Speckled Red shared the stage with Jim Jackson in 1928 while touring through Mississippi and Alabama with the Red Rose Minstrels & Medicine Show. Red remembered Jackson as "a big fat feller, weighed about 235 pounds. Tall, stately feller too, and he danced, sang, played git-tar, cracked jokes." Jackson's long career with traveling shows began in 1905, and much of his repertoire was rooted in the 19th century. "Bye, Bye Policeman" quotes the chorus of Ernest Hogan's "La Pas Ma La", published in 1895.

Born circa 1880, Richard "Rabbit"  Brown spent much of his life in New Orleans where he was reported to have worked as a street singer and singing boatman on Lake Ponchartrain.  Our selection, “Never Let The Same Bee Sting You Twice” was based on a song published in 1900. On March 11, 1927, Brown cut six sides for the recording pioneer Ralph Peer. Brown was a very much the songster and his recordings are an interesting mix of original blues, pop covers and "event" songs like his "Sinking Of The Titanic."

Born in Teoc, Mississippi in 1893, John Hurt moved to the town if Avalon at the age of two which remained his home for the rest of his life. Hurt cut two sessions in 1928 for the Okeh label and would not record again until 1963. Hurt’s repertoire includes blues from when he was growing up as well as ballads like “Stack O’ Lee” and  “Spike Driver Blues”, which references John Henry, and “Louis Collins” and “Frankie.”

Furry Lewis was a Memphis singer who was born in Greenwood, Mississippi in 1893. He joined Jim Jackson on a medicine show as early as 1906 and worked such shows regularly for the next fifteen years. Prior to honing his musical skills he worked the shows as a comedian, sold corn medicine and liniment oils, or did vaudeville sketches, often in blackface. In 1927, Lewis made two trips to Chicago alongside his old friend Jim Jackson, with the purpose of cutting records for Vocalion. The sessions produced five sides in April and another six later in October of that year. Over the next two years, a total of 23 sides in all were recorded by Lewis for both the Vocalion and Victor labels.

Johnny Watson, alias Daddy Stovepipe was born in Mobile, Alabama, on April 12th 1867 and died in Chicago, November 1st 1963. A veteran of the turn of the century medicine shows, he was in his late fifties when he became one of the first blues harp players to appear on record in 1924. He later recorded with his wife, Mississippi Sarah, in the 1930s and spent his last years as a regular performer on Chicago's famous Maxwell Street, where he made his last recordings.

Daddy Stovepipe, Gennett Records Studio, 1924
Photograph From Talking Machine World

Hambone Willie Newbern had just one session, in Atlanta in 1929, at which he immortalized himself by making the first recording of "Roll And Tumble Blues". He was born about 1899, so John Estes, to whom Newbern gave some guitar tips believed. They met in Mississippi, working on medicine shows, and songs like "She Could Toodle.Oo", "Way Down In Arkansas" and "Nobody Knows (What The Good Deacon Does)" come from that background. Newbern was also capable of writing very personal blues like "Dreamy·Eyed Woman", and "Shelby County Workhouse Blues."

Crying Sam Collins was born in 1887, his stomping ground the Mississippi-Louisiana border region with a style similar to King Solomon Hill and Ramblin Thomas who were from the same region. Collins’ music draws from the era of minstrel and medicine show tradition reflected in songs like ‘Yellow Dog Blues”, “Salty Dog”, “Hesitation Blue’ and the first recorded version of “The Midnight Special.” His masterpieces, “Lonesome Road Blues” was a version of “In The Pines” which dates back to the 1870’s, and “My Road Is Rough And Rocky” which is a version of ”Long Gone.”

Born in 1891, Charlie Patton was older than the other Delta musicians who recorded during the golden age of the 1920s and 1930s, and he seems to have developed many of the themes that are now considered basic to the Delta blues repertoire. Remembered by history as a blues musician, Patton had grown up in the pre-blues era, and he played the full range of music required of a popular rural entertainer. Even though his recording career was sparked by the blues craze, only about half of his roughly fifty records can reasonably be considered part of that then-modern genre. The others are a mix of gospel and pre-blues music like “Runnin’ Wild Blues”, "Elder Greene" and “Prayer Of Death.”

Alec Johnson and Ben Covington were two other artists who's repertoire drew on a pre-blues song book. While nothing is know of Johnson’s background, the six sides he cut in 1928 strongly reflect the minstrel and coons songs just before the turn of the century; songs like “Next Week Sometime” which was published in 1905 while “Mysterious Coon” harks back to an even earlier period. Covington worked in minstrel shows and earned his name for pretending to be blind to help him earn extra money. According to bluesman Big Joe Williams, Covington toured with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, as well as various medicine shows and carnivals, and even worked as a sideshow attraction known as "The Human Pretzel." He recorded about a dozen sides between 1928 and 1932,  playing harmonica, banjo and mandolin.

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ARTIST
SONG
ALBUM
Mississippi John Hurt Avalon Blues The Complete 1928 OKeh Recordings
Mississippi John Hurt Got The Blues (Can't Be Satisfied) The Complete 1928 OKeh Recordings
Mississippi John Hurt Richland Woman Blues Live!
Mississippi John Hurt Monday Morning Blues Library Of Congress Recordings Vol.2
Bukka White Sic 'Em Dogs On The Vintage Recordings
Bukka White Aberdeen Mississippi Blues The Vintage Recordings
Bukka White Poor Boy Long Ways From Home Legacy of the Blues
Bukka White Sad Day Blues Mississippi Delta Blues Jam in Memphis, Vol. 2
Bukka White Alabama Blues Sky Songs
Furry Lewis Billy Lyons And Stack O'Lee Masters Of Memphis Blues
Furry Lewis Big Chief Blues Masters Of Memphis Blues
Furry Lewis The Medicine Shows Furry Lewis
Furry Lewis Pearlee Blues Furry Lewis
Joe Callicott Fare Thee Well Blues Mississippi Masters
Joe Callicott Traveling Mama Blues Broke, Black And Blue
Joe Callicott Laughing To Keep From Crying Ain't A Gonna Lie To You
Joe Callicott Let Your Deal Go Down Ain't A Gonna Lie To You
Mississippi John Hurt Louis Collins The Complete 1928 OKeh Recordings
Mississippi John Hurt Ain't No Tellin' The Complete 1928 OKeh Recordings
Mississippi John Hurt Trouble All My Day Library Of Congress Recordings Vol.1
Mississippi John Hurt Make Me A Pallet The Best Of Mississippi John Hurt
Bukka White Parchman Farm Blues The Vintage Recordings
Bukka White Bukka's Jitterbug Swing The Vintage Recordings
Furry Lewis Kasie Jones Pt. 1Masters Of The Memphis Blues
Furry Lewis Judge Harsh Blues Masters Of The Memphis Blues
Furry Lewis Good Morning Judge Good Morning Judge
Furry Lewis Going Away Blues Party! At Home: Recorded in Memphis
Robert Wilkins Police Sergeant BluesMasters Of Memphis Blues
Robert Wilkins Falling Down Blues Masters Of Memphis Blues
Robert Wilkins Prodigal Son Memphis Gospel Singer

Show Notes:

Around 1960 a considerable interest for all folk sources for American music evolved among students in the Northeast, and soon spread to the whole country. While the blues revival is almost always tied to the 1960's it should be noted that white appreciation of the blues, or at least the folksier aspect of blues goes back further with considerable interest generated by Leadbelly in the late 30’s and 40's who attained success playing at concerts and benefits for an audience of leftist folk music aficionados mostly in New York City. Josh White and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee were also part of this scene and played alongside Woody Guthrie and a young Pete Seeger. At the start of the 1950's, Bill Broonzy became part of a touring folk music revue formed by Win Stracke called I Come for to Sing, which also included Studs Terkel and Lawrence Lane. Terkel called him the key figure in this group. The group had some success thanks to the emerging folk revival movement. The exposure made it possible for Broonzy to tour Europe in 1951 where Broonzy was greeted with standing ovations and critical praise wherever he played. The tour marked a turning point in his fortunes, and when he returned to the United States he was a featured act with many prominent folk artists such as Pete Seeger, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, and Leadbelly. In addition to Broonzy, who made many folk oriented record in the 50's, pre-war artists like Pink Anderson, J.D. Short, Rev. Gary Davis and Scrapper Blackwell among others were also recorded by the end of the 50's.

The blues revival doesn't refer to the rebirth of the music, the blues never went away, and certainly the electric brand of blues was still popular in urban centers like Chicago, but a new found interest in the music among young white listeners. In a addition there was a small band of enthusiasts who began to collect what information they could on the blues artists of the past. Writers like Samuel Charters and Paul Oliver wrote serious studies of the blues while other like Chris Strachwitz and John Fahey formed labels and tracked down these older blues artists. Many of these men would double as writers, producers, promoters and managers fueled by their passion for the music. At first limited to the traditional repertoire of American folk songs such as those gathered in the review Sing Out and expressing itself as the Newport Folk Festival, this movement soon became interested in other sources such as bluegrass, ragtime, and the blues, specifically acoustic country blues, which lost popularity after WW II.

The acoustic blues revival allowed numerous artists rediscovered on that occasion to begin a new career, in particular some blues giants of the 20's and 30's like Son House, Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, Bukka White, Rev. Gary Davis and too a lesser extent artists like Robert Wilkins and Joe Callicott. Other bluesmen whose careers were at a standstill, due to waning interest among black audiences, adapted their style to the times, including artists like Lightnin' Hopkins, John Lee Hooker, Big Joe Williams, Memphis Slim,  Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee and even Muddy Waters for a brief spell. In addition several down-home artists who had not previously recorded were brought to light, most importantly Mance Lipscomb, Fred McDowell and Robert Pete Williams.  Several record companies sprang up to document the music, most importantly Prestige/Bluesville that released around a hundred albums between 1960 and 1964. Other labels included Arhoolie, Testament and Piedmont among others. The blues revival spread to Europe, most notably in the form of the American Folk Blues Festival, a remarkable traveling caravan that toured Europe through the 60's and beyond.  Although it should be noted that Muddy Waters had toured England in 1958 and Big Bill Broonzy had toured Europe starting as far back as 1951. By the mid-60's the blues revival began to encompass electric blues and labels like Delmark and Vanguard issued acclaimed records by several artists. Today's show, however, focuses on the early, still acoustic focused part of the blues revival and with all today's featured artists having recorded in the pre-war era. In part one we spotlight well known artists like Mississippi John Hurt, Bukka White, Furry Lewis plus fine artists who  a lower profile during the revival like Joe Callicott and Robert Wilkins.

Mississippi John Hurt grew up in the Mississippi hill country town of Avalon, population under 100, north of Greenwood, near Grenada. He began playing guitar in 1903, and within a few years was performing at parties, doing ragtime repertory rather than blues. In the early '20s, he teamed up with white fiddle player Willie Narmour, playing square dances. Hurt was spotted by a scout for Okeh Records who passed through Avalon in 1927, who was supposed to record Narmour, and was signed to record after a quick audition. Of the eight sides that Hurt recorded in Memphis in February of 1928, only two were ever released, but he was still asked to record in New York late in 1928. Mississippi John Hurt might've lived and died in obscurity, if it hadn't been for the folk music revival of the late '50s and early '60s. A scholar named Tom Hoskins discovered that Mississippi John Hurt, who hadn't been heard from musically in over 35 years, was alive and living in Avalon, MS, and sought him out, following the trail laid down in Hurt's song "Avalon Blues." After his rediscovery a series of concerts were arranged, including an appearance at the Newport Folk Festival, where he was greeted as a living legend. A tour of American universities followed as did a series of recordings: first in a relatively informal, non-commercial setting intended to capture him in his most comfortable and natural surroundings, and later under the auspices of Vanguard Records. Hurt took the opportunity, playing concerts and making new records of old songs as well as material he'd never before laid down. Vanguard got out a new album, Today!, in 1966, from his first sessions for the label. Additionally, the tape of a concert that Hurt played at Oberlin College in April of 1965 was released under the title The Best of Mississippi John Hurt. Hurt got in one more full album, The Immortal Mississippi John Hurt, released posthumously, and a record assembled from his final sessions, Last Sessions, also issued after his death. In addition Hurt was extensively recorded for the Library of Congress in 1963. These recordings have been issued by Fuel 200 on two double CD sets: D.C. Blues: Library of Congress Recordings 1 & 2.

In the notes to Bukka White – The Vintage Recordings 1930-1940, Keith Briggs writes that Bukka's "recordings made between 1930 and 1940 are among the most creative and dynamic blues ever recorded. These early sessions have always been revered as being among the finest in blues history with his last recording date being referred to as the last great pre-war country blues recording session. Booker’s unique sound was a combination of solid, rocking, rhythms interspersed with vigorous guitar breaks, his ability as a bottleneck slide guitarist and his gritty, heavy voice. He favoured the steel bodied National guitar as it’s volume allowed him to be audible over the noise of a good-time crowd. His songs were almost always personal and are among the most creative and descriptive to found on blues records."

In 1930 Bukka White met furniture salesman Ralph Limbo, who was also a talent scout for Victor. White traveled to Memphis where he made his first recordings, singing a mixture of blues and gospel material under the name of Washington White. Victor only saw fit to release four of the 14 songs Bukka White recorded that day. As the Depression set in, opportunity to record didn't knock again for Bukka White until 1937, when Big Bill Broonzy asked him to come to Chicago and record for Lester Melrose. By this time, Bukka White had gotten into some trouble — he later claimed he and a friend had been "ambushed" by a man along a highway, and White shot the man in the thigh in self defense. While awaiting trial, White jumped bail and headed for Chicago, making two sides before being apprehended and sent back to Mississippi to do a three-year stretch at Parchman Farm. While he was serving time, White's record "Shake 'Em on Down" became a hit. It was as "Washington Barrelhouse White" that White recorded two numbers for John and Alan Lomax at Parchman Farm in 1939. After earning his release from Parchman Farm in 1940, he returned to Chicago with 12 newly minted songs to record for Lester Melrose. These became the backbone of his lifelong repertoire, and the Melrose  session today is regarded as the pinnacle of Bukka White's achievements on record. Among the songs he recorded on that occasion were "Parchman Farm Blues" Good Gin Blues," "Bukka's Jitterbug Swing," "Aberdeen, Mississippi Blues," and "Fixin' to Die Blues."These would be his last recordings for nearly a quarter century.

Two California-based blues enthusiasts, John Fahey and Ed Denson addressed a letter in 1963 to "Bukka White (Old Blues Singer), c/o General Delivery, Aberdeen, Mississippi." By chance, one of White's relatives was working in the Post Office in Aberdeen, and forwarded the letter to White in Memphis. Things moved quickly from the time Bukka White met up with Fahey and Denson; by the end of 1963 Bukka White was already recording on contract with Chris Strachwitz and Arhoolie. White wrote a new song celebrating his good fortune entitled "1963 Isn't 1962 Blues” and swiftly recorded material for Fahey's Takoma label (Mississippi Blues) and sessions for Arhoolie (Sky Songs Vol. 1 & 2). He thrived on the folk festival and coffeehouse circuit of the 1960s. Big Daddy, was his final record cut for the Biograph label in 1974. He passed in 1977.

Walter "Furry" Lewis was born in Greenwood, MS, sometime between 1893 and 1900 — the exact year is in dispute, as Lewis altered this more than once. The Lewis family moved to Memphis when he was seven years old, and Lewis made his home there for the remainder of his life. Lewis' real musical start took place on Beale Street in the late teens, where he began his career. He also began playing traveling medicine shows during this period. Lewis' recording career began in April 1927, with a trip to Chicago with fellow guitarist Landers Walton to record for the Vocalion label, which resulted in five songs, also featuring mandolin player Charles Jackson on three of the numbers. In October of 1927, Lewis was back in Chicago to cut six more songs, this time with nothing but his voice and his own guitar. He made a lengthy session in 1928 and cut few final songs in 1929. Lewis gave up music as a profession during the mid-'30s, when the Depression reduced the market for country-blues.

Fortunately, Furry found work as a municipal laborer in Memphis during the '20s, and continued in this capacity right into the '60s. In the intervening years, he played for friends and relatives, living in obscurity. At the end of the '50s, however, folksong/blues scholar Sam Charters discovered Lewis and persuaded him to resume his music career. He first recorded Lewis for Folkways in 1959 on a self-titled album. Lewis returned to the studio under Charters' direction and cut two albums for the Prestige/Bluesville labels in 1961. Gradually, as the '60s and the ensuing blues boom wore on, Lewis emerged as one of the favorite rediscovered stars from the '30s, playing festivals, appearing on talk shows, and being interviewed. Furry Lewis became a blues celebrity during the '70s, following a profile in Playboy magazine and appearances on The Tonight Show, and managed a few film and television appearances. Lewis recorded extensively in the 50’s and 70’s, often in informal settings, with albums issued on Blue Horizon, Adelphi, Southland and with several posthumous recordings issued. Lewis died in Memphis in 1981.

Joe Callicott waxed a lone 78 in Memphis in 1929, “Fare Thee Well Blues b/w Traveling Mama Blues”, and a year later played second guitar on Garfield Akers’ “Cottonfield Blues Parts 1 & 2.” It was field recorder George Mitchell who found Callicott in Nesbit, Mississippi off Highway 51 not far from Hernando and short distance from Brights where Garfield Akers was supposedly born. Callicott’s “comeback” was about as short as his first recording career, lasting from the summer of 1967 through the summer of 1968; he recorded nineteen sides for Mitchell either late August or early September, four sides at the 1968 Memphis Country Blues Festival and seventeen sides for Blue Horizon in 1968. As Paul Oliver wrote: “A wider recognition came almost too late but Joe appeared at the 1968 Memphis Blues Festival and was looking forward to a European trip. Back at his home, with the birds whistling and witnessed by his wife and their bellcow, he recorded his last testament; he died early in 1969 and with him went the last echoes of Mississippi country music of the earliest phase of the blues.”

Robert Wilkins was born in Hernando, a small town in northern Mississippi, which nonetheless managed to contribute such musicians as Frank Stokes, Jim Jackson, Garfield Akers and Joe Callicott to the story of the Blues. Wilkins worked in Memphis during the Roaring Twenties, sharing billing with Furry Lewis, Memphis Minnie (whom he claimed to have tutored), Son House, and other musicians for local shows. He also organized a jug band to capitalize on the "jug band craze" then in vogue. His first sessions for the Victor label in 1928 yielded the droning, one-chord "Rolling Stone," whose title, if not structure, later inspired Muddy Waters. In September 1929, Wilkins recorded for the Brunswick label in Memphis's Peabody Hotel, where he waxed the notable "That's No Way To Get Along," a song he would record later as "The Prodigal Son." The recording industry was hit hard by the Great Depression and as sales slackened, so did recording opportunities. Wilkins continued to play Memphis during the early 1930s, with occasional stints in the medicine show wagon and an informal appearance at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair. In 1935, he was offered an opportunity to record for the Vocalion label in Jackson, Mississippi, with Little Son Joe and "Kid Spoons." The output was a varied collection of song styles, including "Old Jim Canan's," a celebration of the gambling parlor formerly located at 340 Beale Street.

Wilkins quit music in 1936 and in 1950 became a minister in the Church of God in Christ. He was rediscovered in 1964, made a few recordings on scattered anthologies and played the festival circuit for the spell but stuck strictly to spiritual music. In 1964 he cut his lone album, the classic Memphis Gospel Singer, which has yet to be issued on CD. Wilkins passed in 1987.

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